Science is not a democracy.

Scientists work in an open and consensual way that allows for conflicting views. This makes it even more remarkable that today there is very strong agreement among them that global warming is real.

The ‘Oregon declaration’ refers to a petition, that was compiled between 1999 and 2001 by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (OISM), calling for the US Government to reject the Kyoto agreement and claiming that “proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind”. These claims contradicted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2001 report. Critics of the petition claimed that it involved a degree of deception because it was made to look like a scientific article. They also alleged that false names appeared on to the petition – the signatories’ names appear on the OISM website, but without listing any institutional affiliations or even cities of residence, so it is very difficult to determine their credentials or even whether they exist at all. It may also be worth noting that it was part funded by the George C. Marshall Institute which has itself received significant funding from ExxonMobil, a company well known at the time for its denial of global warming.

The best way, around ten years on, to gauge the current scientific consensus is by examining the contents of peer-reviewed scientific publications. Before publication these articles have been thoroughly examined and critiqued by other experts, often anonymously, who work in the same field of research. This method ensures that articles that take unsupportable positions will be rejected. For example, in 2004, Naomi Oreskes, a science historian, was unable to find a single peer-reviewed scientific article that rejected the latest (2001) views of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) whereas three quarters of the papers accepted these views.

A well-informed view on climate change does not require any particular belief but instead requires one to take account of the large amount of evidence in support of man-made climate change. For most people this means relying on the distillation of the evidence by leading scientists and scientific, governmental or well-reputed international bodies, such as the IPCC.

What many non-scientists find hard to understand is that, although there is a very strong agreement that man-made climate change poses a serious threat, science works by assuming that the current leading explanation is correct, only until it can be disproved. This approach, which allows for competing hypotheses and new data and an acceptance that we cannot know everything, does not imply that we know nothing at all and certainly does not imply that we should be inactive in the face of present and predicted changes to the climate.